Voila! A Shipping Container is Born!

7 Aug

My family is building a new home. After all, the old one is kinda messed up. After your house gets eaten by a hurricane, it makes you start thinking about “the next house.” And sometimes your dreams change from;

“I want a big pool, and a four car garage, and a spa tub, and scantily clad serving wenches…” um… er… better strike that “wench” part. My wife probably isn’t gonna let that last one get to the “short list.”

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah…

After a hurricane, the dreams for your housing sometimes change from “wishes” to necessities. Necessities like sturdy, solid, shelter that takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’…

(Sorry Timex… I know, I owe you .39 cents…)

And that requirement for “tough stuff,” can lead you to look at some rather unconventional materials, like shipping containers, for instance. It’s not that crazy, really. I mean, they’re big solid steel boxes, just begging to be “painted and draped!”

And they’re everywhere! You see, the US is an “importer nation,” and not an “exporter nation.” It’s one of the flaws of our society, if you ask me, but it’s a flaw we’re gonna take advantage of, to get some really stout building supplies.

Thousands of shipping containers get brought into the country every day. Thousands of them. But thousands of them don’t go back out, because we’re not an “exporter country.” Aren’t you paying attention?

(I knew you were, I was just checking…)

So, the shipping yards stack all these empty containers up, and then… wait… and wait… and wait some more. And sooner or later, they have to get rid of some of them, because they start running out of space to stack them. After all, you can only stack them about 10 units high… right?

So, in shipping ports all over the country, there are literally mountains of these containers.

Yesterday, I started explaining my “processes and progress,” by answering questions that readers have emailed in.

Today, we’ll just jump right back in! Get those pencils ready, because there may be a “pop quiz” at the end…

Several people just can’t grasp the concept of using containers as structure. I suspect it’s partially because it’s hard to actually picture a container, in the first place. If you’re not living on the coast, or right off a main traffic artery or highway, it’s quite possible that you may never have actually seen one, up close.

So, today’s question is;

“But Ronin… Where did Shipping Containers come from?”

We see them on TV. We see them on rail cars, and we even see them sitting by the side of the road, but where did they come from? Many people think the Shipping Container was invented in China — no matter what you heard, it’s just not true.

The very first shipping container was invented and patented in 1956 by an American guy named Malcolm Mc Lean.

Now, Mc Lean wasn’t an “ocean shipper,” a “skipper,” or even a “day tripper.” He was just an “average Joe,” with average goals, looking to do average things.  (I gleaned this from some of his earlier writings.)

He saved his money and bought his first truck in 1934. That’s right! He was a (gasp!) trucker and by 1956 he owned the largest trucking fleet in the South. He also owned the fifth largest trucking company in the United States.

Back in those days, cargo was loaded and unloaded in wooden crates that came in all shapes and sizes. You can imagine how difficult that must have made things!  Obviously, the process was slow and lacked anything even remotely resembling “standards.”

Mc Lean was no dummy. Hey, he might have been “average,” but after spending two decades watching this slow and inefficient process, he finally decided to develop some standardized way of loading cargo from trucks to ships and warehouses.

So, he purchased Pan Atlantic Tanker Company, which owned a bunch of fairly rusted and encrusted tankers. He re-named the new shipping company Sea-Land Shipping.

(The rumor is that he named it that, because the ships were in such bad shape, the crews all prayed to… that’s right… say it with me… “See Land.”) LOL!

But, it’s just a rumor. Hell, I might even have just made it up. Only the lawyers know for sure… LOL!

However, I bet that name is familiar to any of you living near a railyard or a port! With this shipping company Mc Lean could experiment with ways to load and un-load trucks and ships. He was a sadist, that way.

Plus, he owned the place so he could make other people do the dirty work.

After several years and many experiments, he finally came up with a design he liked, and it’s become what we know now as the Shipping Container… it’s a super strong box with a uniform design, that is theft resistant, stackable, easy to load and unload, easy to transfer to trucks, rail cars, ships, and even “stacked and stored.”

So, the simple answer is that “shipping containers” came from ingenuity in the South. Ironic, isn’t it? Hmmm?

(Wait until the local Planning and Zoning guys get a load of this!)

But Mc Lean didn’t really make his mark until the US Navy accepted his containers as “the standard,” and by the early 70’s his shipping containers were globally accepted.

So although Mc Lean had the first concept and working system in 1956, it was the US military and their requirement for compact and efficient shipping, that finally made the “shipping container” acceptable by every shipping line and every country of the world.

See? All that “miitary tech” does trickles down into our day to day life!

After all, it just made good sense. It was so much more efficient to load-unload, the cost of loading freight was reduced by more than 90%. Thus, the cost of products you sell or buy were reduced greatly because of the invention and standardization of the shipping container.

Back in 1956, “loose cargo” cost an average of $5.86 per ton to load.  Using a  shipping container, the cost was reduced to only  .16 cents per ton.

So, Malcolm Mc Lean changed the world, as we know it.  The shipping container has changed the lives of every human on the planet.   Well, almost every human being on the planet. And dogs, a lot of dogs, too…

And now, we’re gonna use that same box, to change the world, again…


3 Responses to “Voila! A Shipping Container is Born!”

  1. Ashish August 8, 2008 at 12:09 am #

    Where’s the pop quiz? 😕

    Alright, choosing between the chinese and the Americans over who invented the shipping container… I’d go with the Americans. Those chinese.. they’ll even say they constructed a huge LED ball and sent it up in the sky becoming the moon… wait it could still be true! 😛

    And thankyou for a huge tip. I can now cost-effectively conquer America! Wooooo! Just buy all the shipping containers from the yards and drop them as bombs. Heck they’re even reusable! 😈

  2. Sarah August 8, 2008 at 10:01 am #

    they give those things away dont they?
    nothing tickles my fancy like freee stuff!!!

  3. renaissanceronin August 8, 2008 at 12:38 pm #

    Ashish: According to the Chinese, the world revolves around them… We’ll see, as time goes by, huh? They’re about to get their butts kicked at the Olympics.
    And when you can show me an Indian strong enough to use a shipping container as a projectile, I’ll start getting scared. I won’t hold my breath… LOL!
    Sarah: I wish they gave them away from free! (Actually, I’m getting mine is a “trade-out” of favors!) The only bad spot on the horizon for shipping containers is that people are starting to figure out the “building potential” of the units. This will only drive the price up! Drat!

Comments are closed.